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The Space Between

The extrinsic data is not, however, read into the text. On the contrary, it is used to verify that which we read out of it (Hirsch 26).

In his essay, "Objective Interpretation," E. D. Hirsch explains the importance of considering author intent while evaluating literature. In his opinion, we should seek "extrinsic data" that will help us jump the gap between the probable and possible. I completely agree with this concept and appreciate his clarification that the "extrinsic data" we find should only be used to "verify" what we interpret from the text. I think that this method of analyzing literature provides the critic with the best of both worlds. He/she can read the text and come up with an creative interpretation on his/her own (this is the fun part, I think), but just to sure he/she doesn't get too carried away in the fun of finding different meanings within a text, the critic should always turn towards the "extrinsic" or extra sources that help ground our initial possible interpretations into probable realities.

Comments (3)

Greta Carroll:

Yes, I agree with you Ellen. I really liked Hirsch’s idea of “verifying” one’s interpretation with the author’s intention. I question how objective this process actually is though. Hirsch seems to think that taking the author’s intention into account makes things objective. But honestly, while I think it certainly is good to add that extra layer of security of author intention, that doing this does not make the reading objective. It makes one’s argument more convincing, but I still believe that figuring out what the author’s intentions were is fraught with subjectivity.

That's a great point, Greta. Building on what you said already, one could argue that we are never truly free of subjectivity in our interpretations. I wrote my paper this week on author intent and tied it into "The Yellow Wallpaper" and Gilman's explanatory writing, "Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper." In a few brief paragraphs, Gilman explains exactly what the title suggests, telling her readers that she wrote the story in reaction to her own mental illness, attempting to save others from the mental ruin she nearly succumbed to. Even with such a statement as this, however, I ended up arguing, as Hirsch does, that we can never truly know what an author means for, although Gilman explains in writing her reason for creating her story, this explanation is "fraught with subjectivity" as you say.

Author intent is definitly an important critical aspect of literary analysis, but I think that many times there is so much more that the author may be trying to convey and if we, as critics, focus to much on the one area of exploration we miss out on adventure of true discovery.


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